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Santa Ana winds bring fire weather, potential power shutoffs

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Santa Ana winds are expected to howl across the Southland on Thanksgiving, delivering the potential for critical fire weather conditions and power shutoffs just as people gather for their holiday meals.

A fire weather watch will be in effect Wednesday morning through Friday afternoon across large portions of Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties as well as the Inland Empire, the National Weather Service said. Isolated wind gusts of 60 mph are possible.

“Unfortunately, another good Santa Ana wind setup is going to start tomorrow,” Matt Moreland, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego, said Tuesday, noting that humidity levels will fall into single digits through Friday.

“So the concern is, if a fire starts, we could see rapid spread,” he said.

Southern California Edison said Tuesday that nearly 99,000 customers could be affected by a public safety power shutoff to reduce the danger of fire from utility lines knocked down by winds.

Inland areas of Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Los Angeles counties could see the largest outages, the utility said. Kern and Orange counties also could be affected.

Southern California Edison spokesman Ben Gallagher said power shutoffs are “not something we take lightly,” particularly around the holidays.

“We look at all those areas that are high fire risk to avoid the potential of wildfires, but we also understand the hardship that [shutoffs] place on our customers, so we’re keeping a really close eye,” he said.

Last year, more than 75,000 Southern California Edison customers faced power shutoffs amid similar conditions around the holiday. This year has been particularly dry, with very little rain through November, officials said.

“The combination of these gusty winds, low humidities and continuing dry vegetation is likely to create critical fire weather conditions over this time,” the National Weather Service said.

It also will be a balmy Thanksgiving, with high temperatures nearing 85 degrees in some inland areas Thursday and Friday.

As a result, red flag warnings will “very likely” be issued for most of Los Angeles and Ventura counties for Wednesday and Thanksgiving Day, with a continued chance through Friday, officials said.

Joe Sirard, a weather service meteorologist in Oxnard, noted that the monstrous Thomas fire of 2017 ignited in early December under similar conditions.

That fire burned about 281,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 structures in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

“That was when there was a very strong Santa Ana wind incident with very dry air,” Sirard said, adding that fall months are “usually the peak of Santa Ana season.”

Gusty Santa Anas also could make driving difficult — particularly in mountain passes and areas with strong crosswinds, officials said.

Those winds will be strengthening as millions of people take to the road: The Automobile Club of Southern California predicts that 3.8 million Southern Californians will drive to Thanksgiving destinations this year, up 9% from a year ago.

Residents are advised to take precautions while traveling and be particularly careful with any ignition sources.

“The public needs to be extra cautious with anything that could start a fire,” the weather service said. Those living near fire-prone areas such as national forests should make and review family plans in the event of an evacuation order.

“This is especially important with unaware visitors during the holiday week,” the weather service said.




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